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Emic or Etic?
Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures

A tangential issue that must be addressed is the idea that the negative language the gospels direct against Jews represents nothing more than a family squabble, or conflicts between different groups of first century Jews, and does not reflect Gentile Christians speaking ill of Jews. The evidence offered below indicates that the etic readings of Judaism by the writers of the Synoptic gospels were not part of either mainstream Judaism or any identifiable Jewish sub-group of the era. The ideology presented in these gospels is clearly Christo-centric, and the points being made far too often fit a Roman or Hellenistic context to sustain the idea that we are reading nothing more than the saga of some Jews involved in a petty dispute. In addition, the church fathers, who were certainly not Jewish, had no difficulty in using the NT to denigrate Judaism in a most derogatory fashion. This they could do without the necessity of rephrasing as Gentiles what they read in a Jewish New Testament. All they needed to do was to take seriously the NT on its own terms as they read and understood it. As it stood, it fit well with the decidedly non-Jewish world views and cultures of the church fathers.

See Also: How Jews and Christians Interpret Their Sacred Texts (Resource Publications, 2014).

By Charles David Isbell
Director of Jewish Studies
Louisiana State University
July 2015

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